Health News Review

Ed Yong, on his “Not Exactly Rocket Science” blog, advises on what science journalists are looking for when they come calling for independent perspectives. Of 8 things on that list, he leads with this:

  • “Weaknesses. The most important things you can tell me about a study are its weaknesses. Are there inaccuracies in the paper? Statistical failings? Do you think the conclusions don’t hold water? The last thing I want to do is to credulously cover a weak study. But I don’t work in your field and my bullsh*t detector is probably less finely calibrated than yours. So I’m basically relying on you to help me not mislead my readers. Maybe your comments will persuade me to drop a story because it’s just that bad. Maybe your comments will help me to confront an editor and say: “We shouldn’t cover this story that you seem so insistent on. Look: all these scientists think it’s bunk.”

Read his blog post to see the other seven.

He also lists what he doesn’t find useful, including:

  • Boilerplate adjectives. Please don’t say “This study is interesting…” when you actually mean “dubious” or “boring”.
  • And on that note, the world’s most banal quote is: “This research is interesting but more work needs to be done”.

He concludes: “Critical comments do carry personal risk, but they also help us to fight credulous and uncritical science reporting.”

The comments posted in response to his blog post are also worth reading.

On the Columbia Journalism Review Observatory blog, Curtis Brainard wrote:

“There is no shortage of advice for scientists on talking to journalists. Just look at the resources page provided by AAAS, the country’s largest general scientific society. There, among other titles, one can find classics such as:

They’re great books, with excellent tips, but the focus tends to be encouraging scientists to be proactive – how to publicize their research, garner media attention, and explain their work clearly. There are suggestions for reacting to media inquires as well, but they’re usually not the primary concern, and they’re often couched in terms of a researcher describing his or her own work.

Thankfully, Ed Yong, a freelance science reporter, has drafted a concise crib sheet for what might be the more likely scenario: what to do when a journalist calls asking about someone else’s work.”

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